Well, it's time to make you dreams come true, Selphie!
– The royal castle of Sunkwoll, Galfort Castle. –
A young girl was pumping herself up in front of the castle gates.
She had long black hair that was slightly wavy and light green eyes. She was clearly a Sunkwoll commoner. She had a pretty face that attracted passersby, but her beauty had unfortunately been reduced by thirty percent because of her shabby appearance.
Her pink blouse was discolored from being washed one too many times, and a closer look at her somewhat short, off-white skirt revealed that it had been patched up at one spot. Moreover, the sack that she carried across her back looked like it would burst open at the seams at any moment.
There was one thing that was strange about her.
She had a sword belt attached to her skirt for some reason, despite the fact that she was still a young girl, and an unbecoming longsword was hanging from her waist. In addition, the coating of the sword's scabbard was discolored and peeling.
The girl perfectly personified the word 'poor' with her entire being, if you excluded the fact that she was armed.
Even still, each and every castle affiliate who passed through the gates glanced over at her from the corner of their eye. This was because her appearance was still worth the look.
Still, anyone who saw her could tell that she was not just a doll.
The light of a tenacious will flickered in her large, beautiful eyes. This light in and of itself was her true nature.
(My dream will finally come true…… I have to do my best, and I absolutely have to pass. I'm definitely gonna become a knight!)
She stood bolt upright at the gates for a short while. Then, Selphie faced forward, her eyes teary from nervousness and inspiration, and was about to take her commemorated first step.
But, she suddenly broke out in goosebumps.
A prickly feeling that made her feel as if icicles had formed on her body……an overwhelming sense of intimidation. She had never felt this kind of pressure even from the master of the dojo that she had attended. She even felt as if the sun itself, which had been shining down on her, had suddenly gone out.
In actuality, Selphie had not thought things through for very long, and her body had reacted before she could even think, "oh no!" Due to the rigorous sword training she had endured day after day, her hands had moved before she could think.
The senses she had honed at the dojo had not rusted, and she was a bit of a birdbrain, too. In any case——
Selphie drew the sword at her waist so fast that her eyes could not follow and brandished it horizontally to her side as she spun around.
(Kyaa!! This isn't even a wooden sword!)
A very realistic set of images jumbled up together in her mind.
Those images were namely of the unfortunate layperson who would soon become a bloody mess rolling around the streets just because they had been standing behind her. Never mind the knight's exam, Selphie thought that she would be going directly to prison…… No, she might even be sentenced to death for this.
However, it was Selphie's arrogance that had conjured up these images. After all, there was no way that an ordinary layperson could release such pressure.
By the time that Selphie had resolved herself, thinking, there's no way I can stop this, I'm gonna slash right through him——
The wind suddenly danced around her and gently picked up her bangs.
A bluish light that shone brighter than the sun reflected off of Selphie's eyes.
There was no other outcome that could have surprised her more than this.
She couldn't help but let out a hoarse scream at the magical sword……the magic sword that had come up to her neck like a magic trick before she knew it.
She wanted to shriek those words with her trembling lips.
The tall man before her eyes had not moved a finger until the very last moments before her attack had hit.
She had definitely seen him simply standing there.
So how did he manage to unsheathe his sword (and a magic sword at that!) and press it up against me right at the last moment?! Is he really just that much faster than me? B, but I worked so hard on my sword skills, too!
There was another thing that surprised her.
Her opponent had not moved to dodge her blow.
Selphie's attack had been intercepted by the man's left hand. He had managed to splendidly stop her sword by grabbing the blade with his fingers.
And, the magic sword in his right hand was pressed up against her throat. A bluish-white light enveloped the entire blade, likely because of the powerful magic imbued within it, and it reverberated with a hum like the buzzing of numerous winged insects.
The sword could have easily cut through one or two skinny girls who had not had much to eat in a single blow.
For some reason, the man ignored Selphie as she stood in a daze, dumbfounded in more ways than one, and drew out a long sigh. Then, looking almost drunk, he slowly shook his head from side to side.
"To think that I'd already mastered the "one-handed sword grab" after using it just once before——"
After a slight pause, he continued in a tone that suggested that he simply could not bear to keep his emotions to himself,
"——I'm a genius! Sometimes, my own genius ability amazes me……"
Are, are you showing off?!?
Selphie's nerves began to unwind all at once.
"Hey! You there!"
the man continued as he suddenly returned to normal and glared at Selphie's direction. His glare was extraordinarily intense.
(He, he's scary!)
Selphie instinctively dropped her sword and shrank away……or rather, she tripped over a rock and fell back on her bottom.
"What's the big idea with slashing at me all of a sudden?! If you weren't a girl, I'd have sent you flying ten meters in the air with a bloody nose——"
Suddenly breaking off his threat, the man abruptly looked down at Selphie sprawled out on the floor and remained silent. His irked expression changed into an extremely serious one.
Thanks to his change in attitude, Selphie was finally able to observe the tall man at her leisure.
He wore black pants and a similarly black shirt, and even his boots were black. Since his hair and eyes were black too, he was covered in black from head to toe.
Selphie didn't know if that was his fashion sense or if he simply didn't care enough to groom it, but his black hair was lazily done and stuck out here and there. His manly face looked incredibly daring, and a brazen smile crept at the edge of his lips from time to time.
There is nothing in the world that I fear…… He looked as if was silently declaring this statement.
Selphie felt as if a large beast, such as a lion or a wolf, had appeared and was looking down at her.
As if he was saying, will she be my lunch?
The man re-sheathed his magic sword while keeping his eyes fixed down at a certain level and muttered,
"an orthodox white, huh……"
"……Eh? Ah, no way!!"
Selphie blushed furiously as her cheeks began to burn.
She stood up with a jolt and pulled down at the hem of her skirt.
"It's a little too late to cover it up now."
"Y, you're horrible! You're so mean! Why didn't you warn me?! Or pretend that you didn't see?! You're a pervert!"
"Stop being stupid!"
The man shouted in thunderous indignation. He continued,
"if you have the chance to look at a girl's underwear, it's obvious that you're supposed to take it! What kind of idiot would warn the girl instead?!"
He spoke with such force that Selphie was overwhelmed for a moment.
Passersby had stopped walking to see what the commotion was, and they were stunned into silence by his unabashed claims. One look at the man's face told Selphie that he harbored no guilt over what he had just said and that he believed his words without a single doubt. He was so self-justified that Selphie almost found herself nodding in agreement.
"And for starters,"
he continued his claims,
"when I was a kid, I'd create those opportunities for myself if I didn't get any, you see!"
"——Doesn't that just mean that you went around lifting people's skirts?!"
Selphie retorted after she had recovered.
However, the man took no notice of her and continued,
"at the end of the day, that's what makes a man a man. Hey, you there, you agree with me, right?!"
He suddenly jabbed a finger at the gatekeeper's direction.
"Eh, are, are you asking me?"
The gatekeeper was still young enough to be mistaken for a kid, and he began to backpedal for some reason. He was wearing the uniform of a squire and had a lance in his hand.
"Yeah. You. You wouldn't just let a chance like that go by if you're a man, right?"
"I, I, well…… I couldn't really see anything from where I was standing…… So…"
the man said as he grasped the poor youth by the shoulder. He continued,
"what's your name?"
"……Did you forget, sir? It's me, Miran. I introduced myself to you just a little while back."
"Never heard of that name before!"
The man decisively cut the youth off and peered into his face. He continued,
"anyway, there's this super scary story that I know; care to hear it?"
"I've already heard that story, sir! It's the story about M, who got on his liege's bad side, right? Okay, I get it! I agree! Yeah, I'd look if there was a girl sprawled out over the ground! It's just as you say, General!"
the youth wailed on the verge of tears. He had said most of his piece in desperation. Selphie did not quite understand what was going on, but she gathered that the youth had had a similar encounter with the man before. Although the man in question seemed to have forgotten the incident entirely.
No……I don't really care about that.
I just heard something outrageous right now——
All of her anger vanished in an instant.
Selphie hurriedly picked up and re-sheathed her sword in a panic. She continued,
"are you……the lord general?"
"Pft…… Well, yeah. I'm the one and only Rain, the high general known throughout this kingdom himself."
The man……or rather, Rain brushed back his hair in one smooth motion.
Wha, what do I do?! Selphie felt as if the blood was draining from her body.
Of all people, he's the person who'll be proctoring the exaam. A, and to think that he was the rumored Lord Rain!
Rain left Miran back at the gates and earnestly stared at Selphie from head to toe, observing her as she panicked.
"Come to think of it, what's with you? Do you have a grudge against me or something? I'm a man who's sweet to girls before all else. I don't remember doing anything to deserve being cut down out of nowhere."
"Ah, that's…! I, I suddenly felt the chills when I sensed your presence, General, and…… Argh, what am I saying?!"
Mysteriously enough, Rain's expression softened up a little after hearing her chew on her words and mumble to herself.
"Oh……? You felt my 'power,' did you now? You have some promise. ……Though you're still pretty weak from my point of view."
Ignoring the second half of what Rain had said, Selphie jumped at the part about "having some promise." Then, she began to rattle on,
"I'm here to take the Official Knight Recruitment Exam! I made sure to hand in my application beforehand! M, my name's Selphie, and I was born here in this town. I want to become a knight to matter what! I'm trying my hardest!"
When Selphie had finished her self-introduction as suddenly as she had begun it, Rain retorted,
"oh……? Well you've just had one hell of a great start, haven't you, my examinee?"
Selphie's temporary ardor vanished at once. She continued,
"no wayy. I really didn't know that you were Lord Rain."
Selphie immediately found herself on the brink of tears, although she rarely ever cried in front of other people. While she could endure almost anything else (for example, her poverty), it was a different story when it came to her dreams.
What will I do if he chases me away……?
"Don't cry, silly. Don't worry, I'm not gonna fail you on the spot or anything."
Rain nodded resolutely when Selphie looked up to him with upturned eyes as if she was silently asking, really? However——
"But a calamity will befall upon you in the distant future if you fall from my good graces. Make sure you remember that!"
"It's all fine and good as long as you understand! And it's just about time, too. You should follow me."
Perking up at once, Selphie threw her sack across her back and followed after him. Although, the youth called Miran's look that seemed to say, "someone outrageous is expecting something from you, huh," bothered her somewhat.
Selphie toddled after Rain in small, quick steps as he strode through the castle gates.
It had been bound to happen because of the drastic different in their gaits. However, after walking for a little while, Rain noticed that Selphie had fallen behind him and slowed down his pace.
"*gasp, gasp*…… Thank you very much, General."
Rain looked at Selphie out of the corner of his eye as she staggered with the sack on her back and murmured to himself is a smallish voice that was still loud enough for her to hear,
"low stamina, huh? ……Minus twenty points."
"Eh, ehh!? I, I'm fine! I actually super tough! See, look at how tough I am!"
In a feverish haste, Selphie began to run laps around the courtyard for no reason. The sack bounced up and down on her back and a cloud of dust whipped up after her. She ran out of breath right about when she was done and immediately became completely exhausted. Then, she plopped down to the floor.
"I, I can still run…… *gasp, gasp*"
"It's getting annoying, so don't, stupid."
He got mad at me.
"It just makes your low stamina all the more obvious. I was just teasing you before, so don't take me too seriously."
"P, please don't make fun of me like that…… I'm already nervous because of the exaam!"
"Just relax, silly, relax. It's not like you'll die if you don't become a knight. And besides——"
Rain poked at the large sack and continued,
"what's even in this thing. It's way too big for your physique."
"Um, my clothes and underwear and stuff. Basically, it's stuff that I need for everyday life."
When Selphie, who had finally stood up, replied, Rain responded,
"it's not like you're running away from home in the middle of the night or anything…… Why'd you come here with all that?"
If she became a squire, she would be allowed to lodge at the castle. She had prepared her things for that purpose, but she wasn't very willing to explain the truth to Rain.
She was afraid that he would figure out the fact that she had been chased out of her house because she couldn't pay her rent if she did. And besides, she didn't want him pitying her either.
Fortunately, Rain did not press her for answers.
Then, he walked on and said with a gentle voice,
"anyway, hurry up as fast as you can. She's gonna get on my case again."
Selphie was hesitant to ask something that could be perceived as impolite. And besides, she had the feeling that she would find out soon enough. Once they had cut through the courtyard and walked around the back of the palace and arrived at their destination, they were greeted with a square building that appeared to have been newly constructed.
"Is that the exam venue?"
"A venue, huh…… That's the arena that was established just recently. We just happen to be borrowing it for the exam.
"An, an arena!?"
"Well no, it technically has a proper name. I just happened to forget what it was. It's supposed to be a place where knights can practice their swordplay. It wasn't a dojo…… I really can't recall what it was."
Selphie nodded in vague confusion at Rain's extremely lackadaisical explanation. Rain seemed to be a much more broad-minded person than he looked. She was also surprised at how much younger he looked than his supposed age (twenty-five).
Then again, Selphie was currently in no position to worry about that, and she soon found herself fully engrossed by the upcoming exam.
She began to feel nervous all over again.
A large crowed of men and women (mostly men) who appeared to be examinees were gathered by the entrance. Each and every one of them looked strong in their own right, and Selphie felt like they could easily push aside a 'poor, malnourished girl' like herself with one arm. In fact, in Selpie's eyes, they looked like they were all villains who had recently escaped from the dungeons. For example, they looked like criminals who had murdered several dozen people.
When she imagined this, Selphie became so frightened that she felt like she could die.
"Hey, what are you freezing up for? You're not a bride facing her wedding night, so relax, just relax. Everyone's scared, but it's only scary at first."
"Y, yessir! I'll do my best! It, it's only scary at first!"
More than half of Rain's joking had gone through one of Selphie's ears and out the other. She followed after Rain's black figure with awkward footsteps while trying her best to avoid looking at the assembly of scary fighters.
It seemed that she was the only dunce who had failed to recognize Rain on sight, as most of the other examinees opened up a path and saluted him. Rain gave them a smug nod and passed through.
Selphie chased after him like a child chasing after their parent and fled into the venue grounds. She ignored the soldiers stationed at either side of the entrance as they called out to her.
"*sigh*…… That was so scary!"
She let out a sigh of relief after she finally set foot into safety.
Rain began, exasperated.
"Why the hell did you follow me in?! You're supposed to wait outside!"
"Ah, you, you're right! B, but!——"
"Late! You're late, general!!"
A shrill voice cut in and rescued Selphie from her state of panic.
Wh, who's that!?
When she quickly turned around, she saw a beautiful female noble, and a pure-blooded noble at that, with blonde hair and blue eyes standing upright before her. Anyone with noble blood in this kingdom (or at least anyone from a pure noble lineage) was distinctly marked with eyes that were blue all the to the sclera.
The noblewoman, covered in silver armor that had been polished to a shine, spread her legs a little apart and rested her hands atop a sword that was stuck upright in the ground.
She looked like an assistant instructor at a dojo who was reprimanding a lazy disciple, but lacked any real sense of gravity because the armor was too large for her.
Next to the armored beauty (which was what Selphie had decided to call her for the time being) was a troubled young man with short blond hair who also looked like a noble. He was in normal attire, and his eyes told Selphie that he probably wasn't a pure-blooded noble.
"You're late; you're barely made it on time! If a high general like you keeps acting like this, it will corrupt discipline inside and out!"
the armored beauty clamored with a voice as strict as her appearance.
Annoyed, Rain took one look at her and immediately became wholeheartedly displeased.
"You really never learn, do you."
"Whatever do you mean?"
Sensing the stormy mood, Selphie said,
"umm. I'll just wait outside with the rest of the examinees."
"We're letting them in soon anyway. Just stay here. ……It's never a bad feeling to have more women nearby, even if you're just a kid."
"Is, is that so?"
Selphie felt as if Rain had said something incredibly rude. This person probably has a lot of enemies, she thought to herself. However, personally, she wasn't all that angry with him. That might be because she knew of Rain's achievements and had seen his strength with her own eyes.
She thought that surely, in order to have become so strong, he had had to endure hours upon hours of painfully hard effort.
Rain walked up to the armored beauty and kicked her armor with the tip of his boots. Then, he continued,
"I told you to quit dressing up like that, Senoa!"
"P, please don't kick it. It's rude!"
"I don't give a shit about being rude. Take it off right now!"
"It sounds kinda lewd when you say it like that,"
the other youth nonchalantly interjected.
Both parties ignored him because he had said something so senseless.
Rain continued to say to the woman called Senoa in a very blunt manner,
"can you even walk in that, huh!?"
"Of, of course I can! What would I do if I couldn't even walk……"
"Hey, you got real quiet at the end there! Then why don't you try walking around a bit to prove it?"
"Why must I do that?"
"If you don't, I'll split that armor of yours right in two!"
Rain threatened with a hand placed on the hilt of his magic sword. Selphie had a feeling that he would actually make good on his threat, and Senoa appeared to be of the same opinion as the blood drained from her face.
"That's not even funny! This armor is the Estherhart ancestral armor that has been handed down——"
"Just shut up and start walking!"
"Un, understood. I'll walk, just you watch. It's no big deal."
Senoa took a deep breath as if she was resolving herself to her fate, slowly lifted up her feet, and began walking. At a first glance, her expression seemed to say, "I can walk just fine," but the truth was evident before she had taken even five steps, as her white forehead began dripping with sweat.
It was even funnier because she tried to look like she wasn't having any trouble at all. Her breathing had become ragged by the time she passed in front of Rain.
"Whoops, my foot slipped."
Suddenly. Rain stuck out a leg.
With a loud crash, the clump of metal fell to the ground.
"What are you doingg?! I won't forgive you for this today! How could you bring such shame upon an upper-class knight like myself——"
Senoa could not seem to get up no matter how much she squirmed around. She simply bashed her arms and legs around blindly on the ground. She was stirring up a fuss, but could not manage to get up. From Selphie's point of view, it looked like the size and weight of Senoa's armor was to blame.
"Ugh! I, I can't get up……"
Senoa rolled here and there as she struggled to get up.
Looking down at her, Rain sighed and said,
"hey Leni. ……Hurry up and strip her armor."
The youth who had been standing off to the side……Leni's face was bright red, likely because he was trying too hard not to laugh.